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August 31, 2011

LSU vs. Oregon: The Auburn Experience

LSU and Oregon had two common opponents last year: Tennessee and Auburn.  Both teams beat Tennessee.  LSU's win was the ugliest win in college football and though Tennessee fans will still debate whether or not LSU won the game, going over the LSU/Tennessee game will yield nothing in contributing to the analysis of the LSU/Oregon game.  However, both LSU and Oregon lost to Auburn and in both of those games Auburn exposed basic weaknesses of the Tigers and Ducks.

The LSU/Auburn Experience
LSU arrived at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium undefeated and staring the national championship squarely in the face.  It appeared that if LSU could get by Alabama in the next game, they would be bound for the BCS title game.  LSU did manage to beat Alabama but, only after an embarrassing loss to Auburn.  What was most embarrassing for Tiger fans was that LSU's known weaknesses, quarterback play and more specifically the passing game, were not the reasons for the Tigers loss to the other SEC West's Tigers.  LSU's defense was crushed by Cameron Newton and Gus Malzahn's misdirection offense.  Throughout the game LSU fans were left scratching our heads while our defenders seemed frozen in their tracks either unwilling to fully commit to tackling or simply unable to get the right angle to deliver the knockout blows that we had become accustom to witnessing.   It seemed that LSU's defensive coaches had done too good of a job hammering in the idea that defenders would be embarrassed if they over committed against Auburn.  It is true that Auburn's style of offense banked on the fact that they would be playing fast defenses that swarmed to the ball.  Auburn's offense had mastered the counter-punch of football:  "Let the defender commit and then quickly change the direction of the play rendering the defender out of position and unable to make the play."  There were two teams that had perfected this style of offense last year:  Auburn and Oregon.  The quick decisive decision making of quarterback is the key to this type of offense.  Oregon's quarterback, Darron Thomas, was a sophomore last year when he executed this offense.  He's back and has a year of experience.  Another key factor in effectively running Oregon's type of offense is the coordination of quarterback and running backs.  Both Oregon's starter and back up running backs are returning.  Oregon's starting running back, LaMichael James, was arguably the best running back in the country last year.  Oregon's back up running back, Kenjon Barner, is a speedy track star who was injured much of last year.  He is completely healed for the opener this year.  If LSU expects to win, they had better have learned from their Auburn experience.

The Oregon/Auburn Experience  
Argue all you like amongst yourselves about how Auburn dominated LSU in their 7 point win at home versus how Auburn squeaked by with a last minute field goal victory over Oregon in the BCS National championship and then come back and face the reality that I will discuss in the rest of this section of this article.  

Auburn shut down Oregon's vaunted running game in the BCS National Championship.  What kept the game close was Darron Thomas' passing attack.  What shut down the Ducks rushing game  was the fact that Auburn's defensive line, Nick Fairley and company, crushed the holes that should have opened up in Oregon's zone blocking scheme.  Nick Fairley probably added some zeros to his NFL contract because of his constant presence in the Oregon backfield.  News flash:  Auburn's Nick Fairley was an outstanding college defensive tackle but LSU has become defensive line U in the past few years.  LSU has several defensive tackles and defensive ends that are of the same caliber as Nick Fairley.  Senior LSU offensive guard Josh Dworaczyk (6'6", 301lbs.)  will miss the LSU/Oregon game because of an injury that will require knee surgery.  Dworaczyk had a great Spring with no apparent or anticipated knee problems.  In fact, several of the LSU offensive linemen were "nicked up" and recovering during a recent scrimmage.  Logic would have it that all of those nicks and Dworaczyk's knee injury occurred while playing against LSU's defensive line.  Still not convinced?  Take my word for it LSU has no fewer than 4 defensive tackles that can crush inside rushing lanes and have the speed and strength to meet Ducks behind the line of scrimmage all night long.  Three other factors should also be considered: 1.  LSU has the quickest defensive ends in the SEC and 2. LSU's secondary is considered by most to be much better than Auburn's secondary was last year, and 3. Oregon is missing interior offensive linemen from last year's team.  Oregon may very well run all over and pass at will against LSU Saturday but, that would be a real testament to the arrival of the Duck offense.  Oregon proved that they were an unstoppable force last year but, Saturday starts a new year.   

What is truly exciting about this Saturday is that no one has a crystal ball.  We will all be watching the action as it occurs in real time.  We can guess that when Oregon meets LSU on the playing field that the classic "unstoppable force" will meet the "unmovable object" but, who knows, maybe the real game will somehow come down to the match up between LSU's new offense and Oregon's defense or maybe it will come down to some special teams play that decides the final outcome.
I cannot wait until this game starts and I would like to see a close game that represents the true quality of these two teams.  That is. . .  . unless. . . . LSU somehow manages to totally blow out the Ducks.  No secrets - Oregon is my third favorite team behind my Alma Maters - LSU and Texas A&M. 

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